After a week off for Thanksgiving, the UConn Huskies men’s basketball team returns to action Sunday afternoon with a matchup against the Maine Black Bears in their XL Center opener. Fortunately for the Huskies, Maine comes to Hartford as one of the worst teams in Division I, allowing UConn to shake off any rust early on and still maintaining a chance to win the game.
The Black Bears are coming off a 20-point loss to No. 7 Virginia where they scored 26 points (not a typo) and fell to 2-4 on the season. While the Cavaliers are consistently one of the stingiest defensive programs in the country, Maine likes to play slow, for better or for worse. That strategy lead to an atrocious offensive game with limited possessions against Virginia, but might do better against a UConn team that will certainly look to push the pace.
Andrew Fleming, Maine’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, is the Black Bears’ only true offensive weapon. The 6-foot-7 forward can step out and shoot the three, but isn’t very good at it, shooting just 27.3 percent from deep this season. The Black Bears also get contributions for Sergio El Darwich (11 points, four assists per game) and Nedeljko Prijovic, a 6-foot-8 forward who is Maine’s best 3-point threat at 42.3 percent
A combination of Josh Carlton, Akok Akok and Tyler Polley should be able to contain Fleming and Prijovic, with all three players having size and/or length advantages. Sidney Wilson, who is a game-time decision for Sunday, could also be called on to guard either Maine big man and cause problems with his athleticism.
As for UConn, the Huskies should be able to take care of business soundly if they pick up where they left off to end the Charleston Classic. Throughout that tournament, UConn rose to the level of their opponents, grinding out a win over Buffalo, hanging tight with Xavier in double overtime, and blowing out a solid Miami squad. As long as the Huskies push the pace and don’t stoop to Maine’s level, they should blow by the Black Bears and climb to 5-2 on the season.
However, UConn hasn’t always handled these games as easily as they should. If the Huskies can get out to a hot start and get ahead early, it could give players like Jalen Gaffney, James Bouknight and Brendan Adams more chances to build off their impressive performances in Charleston. With starters Christian Vital, Polley, Carlton and Akok playing well and Alterique Gilbert bouncing back nicely against Miami, another strong bench performance would help the team prepare for matchups against Iona and Indiana in the next few weeks.
If Bouknight can continue to be a jolt of instant offense off the bench and Adams can offer up solid defense and 3-point shooting, this UConn team will have the necessary depth to contend for a return to the NCAA tournament. Strong performances from the two of them against Maine should keep their confidence high and prove their performances last week weren’t just a fluke.
Prediction: Maine scores more than 26 points, but still gets handled easily by UConn. The Huskies cruise by 81-52 and Bouknight plays well and plays often, leading all scorers and making a legitimate claim to enter the starting lineup for Iona, Indiana and beyond.
How to watch
Where: XL Center - Hartford, Connecticut
When: 1 p.m. ET
Radio: UConn IMG Radio Network